Have you ever been to a foreign city and not been able to figure out the names of the stations or directions of that city’s metro? Did you feel completely lost and upset with whoever designed the system? Maybe as a parent you have tried taking a bus with a stroller and gave up because you were not able to take it up the steep stairs? Or maybe you had to walk on the road among traffic and cars because the sidewalk was blocked by construction or parked cars?
Well, imagine trying to do all that with a disability. What would you do to get from point A to point B if you could not even access public transport systems? That’s why many people with disabilities have to stay at home every day.
We all know that transportation is vital for independent living: finding a job, shopping, enjoying life with family and friends, and going out to the movies or restaurants. And from the World Bank perspective, it is a crucial element for staying out of poverty.
However, is inclusive transport given enough focus in transport planning, design, construction, implementation and maintenance in developing countries? Do transport project leaders from the World Bank and local transport planners and engineers have enough data and evidence to justify the economic cost of including accessibility features?
Let’s think about what we know…
- 10-12% of the world’s population has moderate to severe disability. That is some 700-800 million people;
- 80% of disabled people live in developing countries;
- 80-90% of persons with disabilities of working age persons are unemployed;
- 1/3 of primary school aged children not in schools due to disabilities or are looking after family members with disabilities
Can we ignore this? And is this problem related only to poor infrastructure? The World Bank has provided assistance to governments to include accessibility features in transport projects design. For BRT (bus rapid transit) projects, a few examples of features that have been included in the design included:
- Access to stations: use of low-floor vehicles aligned with the height of station platforms; gentle ramps; precision docking;
- Payment: Fare cards for passengers with special needs; accessible turnstile;
- Traveler information: for passengers with vision and hearing disabilities
- Vehicle interior configuration: Non-skid flooring; priority seating; contrasting color; handrail
On June 29, the Transport Anchor held a session in Washington on accessible transport focusing on persons with disabilities . Ziad Nakat, Transport Specialist presented two recent examples of projects in the Middle East and North Africa Region which explicitly included improving accessibility as project outcomes. In the Cairo Airport Development Project  the Bank financed an independent consultant to check the overall designs, including whether the accessibility of people with disabilities was taken into account.
Ziad Nakat highlighted that in the preparation of the Marocco Urban Transport DPL , the Bank had an opportunity to discuss the issues with the city and government officials. Some specific solutions will be implemented: private taxi company to serve people with disabilities and new, more accessible buses are purchased by a private operator. Perhaps more importantly, the discussions helped to increase the awareness and focus of the ministry and city officials at many levels.
And this is a great achievement. Because no infrastructure or technical solution is useful if you live in a society where the social stigma attached to a disability actually prevents you from leaving your house. We need to continue the dialogue and involve different stakeholders – starting from the government, the engineers, NGOs and people with disabilities themselves. This was the case in the Urban Project in the Liaoning Province of China . Issues were identified through a participatory process including focus group discussions, open meetings and field testing.
As part of such dialogue, at the beginning of June I attended the 12th International Conference on Mobility and Transport for Elderly and Disabled Persons (TRANSED 2010 ) in Hong Kong. I made a presentation on the benefits of accessibility in the context of economic development during a panel session on accessible transport in emerging economies. I also chaired a technical session on universal accessibility and implementation implications for livable and accessible communities.
These are just a few examples of what we are doing. Do you have experiences and thoughts about this issue? Send us your ideas and pictures.